After a solid six hours sleep I awoke this morning to the sound of roasters crowing, crows cawing, pidgins cooing, and dogs barking. Ah – morning in Kathmandu. I’d left my curtains open so lay in my bed on the top floor of the hotel and watched the dark shift to gray then orange then light. Time to rise and meet the day. My first back in this city I have such a complex relationship with. The filth that mixes with the divine, the tranquil gardens and temples juxtaposed against the grinding toil and racket of an over populated crumbling shambles of a glorious place. The stink. The smog. The grime. Temples bells making music in the breeze, the rich scent of marigolds, gold domes glinting in the sun, chanting monks and honking of vehicle horns.
Holman from the Lions Kathmandu eye hospital arrived to pick up his 268 pairs of prescription eye glasses and a couple of personal gifts from friends in Canada. Then the brother of a Nepali friend of mine in Courtenay came to pick up five bottles of salad dressing we’d brought for their mother. Who knew….? Of course both came with gifts for me to return to folks in Canada. Yes Karin and Heather I return bearing a gift from Homan for each of us. Kamal I have something for you from your brother.
After breakfast in our hotel’s tranquil courtyard garden we headed off to exchange money. My friend the money changer was at his post. Alive and well. His house had tumbled down in the earthquake but he has bought and fixed up another. Tea was sent for. Stools were brought over from across the road and we crouched on them by the road while sipping and chatting. After the tea was finished we got down to the business of negotiating an exchange rate better than the one clearly posted.
Next stop, my friend the outdoor fitting guy down the street and around a couple of corners and up another street. Would I find him? Indeed there was his shop, also unscathed and although the owner was out, his staff seemed well enough informed that when didi comes shopping with four friends, a deal will be stuck. It was. A really good one. sleeping bags, down jackets, and assorted other necessary gear were purchased in fairly short order. All accomplished in a space smaller than most people’s spare bedrooms.
Back at the hotel we met up with Binod and Tendi. Treks were paid for. A vehicle arrived and we set off with Tendi to tour around a few of Kathmandu’s highlights. Driving along we saw an enormous tent city. Eleven months post earthquake and there are a large number of people still living in tents. They’ve lived in these make shift shelters through the monsoons of last summer and the cold of this past winter. No end in sight yet for their dilemma of homelessness.
As we drove past the walled and private grounds of the palace, Tendi announced that he’d lived there for 10 days immediately after the quake in a tent with his family. He said it was a very nice place to live, clean and pretty. Trust a Nepali person to put a positive spin on that situation.
We drove past several areas with signs of extensive damage, but the majority of buildings seemed relatively unscathed. The van pulled up in front of my most loved spot in Kathmandu. And all thoughts about how healed the city seemed to be came crashing down. Boudhanath Stupa sustained significant damage. It was shocking to see the white dome now gray and uncrowned with no golden tower rising above. No Bouddha eyes looking down, no flags brightly sending their prayers into the wind. There is instead Scaffolding and metal sheds and heaps of red bricks. It is a place in ruins but being carefully rebuilt brick by brick – by hand. Pictures will follow in a separate post once I down load them. But be warned, if you know what a beautiful place this once was, the current scene is not for the faint of heart.
We bought some singing bowls then went to the temple to get them blessed. The usual tossing of rice and splashing of water with wafted smoke was accompanied by the chanted blessings of three attending monks. Always an interesting ceremony to witness and be included in. Of course the bowls sounded great before the blessing and now they sound even better.
We had lunch at the money changer’s roof top restaurant. He showed up and gave us all a 25% discount. The sun was hot enough we needed to shelter under the shade umbrellas. We ate while watching to steady one by one assent of the bricks up the scaffolding ramp to be carefully placed creating a new plinth for the stupa’s tower.
Next stop Swayambhunath. Here too there was much evidence of the earthquake’s destruction. I felt quite turned around until Tendi pointed out the entire temple that used to stand up there among the stupa and towers is gone. Just gone. Nothing left except a few statues that used to be inside. Disappeared. Rubbleized. He also told us that numerous tourists (mostly Europeans) came right after the quake and robbed the place of bricks and bits of the temple. Obscene. The monkeys and stray dogs seem unconcerned and the views over Kathmandu remain as smoggy as ever. The steps down seem even steeper as some of the hand railings were destroyed.
We had time to head south to Patan Dubar square. I stealed myself. Good thing too. Several of the lovely temples are flattened, several others are held up with supporting buttresses. The guide touts are still there and just as annoying as ever. Even with Tendi in tow we were pestered. The dried buffalo intestines above one of the palace doors remains undisturbed by the destroyed temples across the square.
By now it was time to return to the hotel. After a quick change we headed off for dinner at Thamel house. What would I find? We walked in and it was old home week. Most of my friend waiters were there. There were a couple of missing faces. A day off or……? I didn’t ask. Some things are best unknown. Binod joined us for dinner. We settled some last minute trek details and then called it a day. Walking back to the hotel we passed a shop owned by a pair of brothers I know. As we went by I wondered if they were still there……… And there was one of them calling out to me. Another happy ending.
I’m exhausted. Too tired to post pictures tonight and we leave at six in the morning so it may be a few days before you hear from me again. All in all it’s been a marvellous day but it is very difficult to see how dreadfully this city and the people of Nepal continue to suffer. Tourist numbers are way down. There are shortages of basics such as water. Binod’s family has been without for four days now. This isn’t just drinking water I’m talking about – just water. Fuel is in short supply. Food is very expensive. Life is pretty difficult. Even more so than normal.
Not a cheerful note to end on, but a realistic one none the less.
Good night from Kim didi in Kathmandu.